In an Internet increasingly susceptible to equality, representation and inclusiveness, Borderlands offers an important, as well as solitary, example of how it is possible to create an irreverent, crazy and light-hearted game without necessarily being inconvenient or , worse, rough .
It is known, Borderlands has never been a saga that took itself too seriously. The real key to reading Gearbox titles is always to be coded as a castigat laughing mores , like a not too bland satire, seasoned with nonsense and a pinch of post-apocalyptic.
Driving the Poo Trains, shooting Psychos with their meat bicycles in the face and listening to Moxxi's dirty jokes are great ways to enjoy a title that offers hilarious content. However, we certainly cannot leave behind a whole series of elements that make the Pandora context (and not) fully representative, inclusive, diversified . Unfortunately we are not here to talk about the hyper-technological caricatures of evil corporations such as Hyperion, let alone the madness represented by a certain model of communication on the network promulgated continuously. Despite the humor and incredible lightheartedness with which you can play a Borderlands title, the political messages within it are present and well defined.
Today we talk about women.
The issue of female representation in the media is still alive and more than ever we need to find some solution or example that gives us confidence. Because it is not a question of giving a little content to someone by inserting more female characters without criterion but it is a matter of creating simply coherent products, where you can easily recognize yourself, without necessarily stumbling upon the usual soubrette without thickness, as often happens in video games.
The Sanctuary III bridge is populated by strong women
We point out the title: it is not so much the presence of some “strength” in the female characters, on the contrary, it is the full and correct representation of multifaceted and all-round characters . Every single character of the Sanctuary III team has a similar characteristic.
In Borderlands there is a particular concept, used almost as a joke: the “badass”, or the being “of the tough”. It is a recurring concept both because the characters continue to repeat it towards other characters or by turning to the protagonist and because there are particularly tough enemies called their “hard”, “super hard” and “definitive hard”. But what does this have to do with women?
The Sanctuary III bridge is populated by “tough”, not so much because it is strong in combat (despite many of them they really are, like the Sirens, the most powerful beings in the universe) but because they have the strength to oppose forces infinitely greater than themselves to fight for what they believe in .
Lilith, Maya, Ava, Ellie, Moxxi and Tannis, of course, would not be asked twice to fight the Hyperion Corporation or the congregation of bandits of the Sons of the Crypt . This is because their well-being, the well-being of others and the world in which they live, the arid and inhospitable Pandora that, just as Ellie says, “goes into your bones”. Although it is an expression with a negative meaning, being in the bones, it all hides a common sense of belonging for that planet which is the cradle of their stories. Borderlands 3 talks about how a group of women saves the universe from the clutches of an evil Mermaid who wants to unleash the most frightening horror that the ancient people of Eridiani wanted to chain.
But this is not enough. Because what allows you to call the “tough” women of Borderlands is the way they interact with events. The famous writer George R. R. Martin has released several interviews on how he builds his characters. In one of these he explains very well how important is the dimension of choice, accompanied by the fact that the characters do not assume only positive or negative connotations. But let's focus more on the concept of choice.
Martin points out that his characters are uniquely human beings . And it is the most disconcerting and banal thing at the same time. The characters are capable of making choices (indeed, it is allowed to make choices), that they are right, wrong or that they seem right from the point of view of the character who makes them. Human beings as such are capable of doing anything in the name of what they believe in. And the women of Borderlands are no different.
Lilith, Maya, Tannis, Ellie and Ava are all strong characters but even before all characterized . This is the point: all women can be strong. What is missing? What makes the portrait of a character good (male or female)? A development, a growth, a change or an awareness, something that suggests to the reader that that character is alive, authentic and therefore beautiful .
Each female character has been able to make choices, which is the main element that allows growth. The hardest one, for example, is up to Lilith, who at the end of the last Borderlands 2 DLC decides to sacrifice the Crypt Key to save the inhabitants of Sanctuary. Was it the right decision to make, given that the clashes and tragedies of Borderlands 3 depend largely on this choice? It can be argued. It is a fact that Lilith has proven to be a tough one by making that choice and accepting the consequences, because she has lived up to her own moral code. Ellie chose to separate from her mother by ruining the relationship; Maya sacrifices herself to allow Ava to survive and Tannis, with a subterfuge, deceives the Calypso but, at the same time, gets caught.
Naturalness and inclusion
Playing superficially, it is not clear that in Borderlands all the main and most influential characters are women . However, we are not facing an enunciation that wants to convey a precise message with this. No embrayage takes us back to a time when Borderlands wants to communicate something through it. We are not in the presence, so to speak, of a work like Evangelion , where there are no positive male characters and where, above all, this means something and is specifically provided for in the statement by the author. In the end, the Borderlands woman is “strong” because she has a whole spectrum of emotions. The centerpiece is that the characters are not strong because men or women but because they are credible, plausible and coherent taking into account the general madness of Borderlands. And this is perfectly natural, because we are faced with human beings made and finished represented in a media landscape that tends to accentuate and characterize women only for their being women. This is what matters .
Borderlands , in his madness, in his being a parody of everything, in his providing a grotesque and caricatural portrait of many aspects of our society, depicting humanity as a rabble of cannibal bandits, the outcasts of guild wars fighting for a piece of meat, is surprisingly lucid and correct from this point of view . In addition to depicting female characters, inclusiveness also extends to characters belonging to different sexual orientations and male characters that we would consider problematic or not adhering to the (toxic) male concept that society represents. All this happens with a disarming naturalness thanks to the same reasoning: Sir Hammerlock is not characterized only by his being gay, as well as Janey Springs, Athena and so on .
Do you know what is really tough? Respect women
These are the words of Mr. Torgue, who fits perfectly into the irreverent and satirical spirit of Borderlands. Mr. Torgue Flexington is a concentrate of muscles and steroids, it makes everything explode, every word comes out of his mouth with a scream and we could trace it back to the stereotype of the stupid, superficial and machista gym. Because what else can be one who sold the patent for the most powerful ammunition on the market for 12 $ and a pat on the back?
Once again Borderlands scoffs at stereotypes, introducing us to what, with excellent probability, is the most humanly dignified character in the whole saga. And it is not only for the sake of comedy that Torgue, little by little, reveals himself for what he is. His immense love for his grandmother (as huge as he is), his passion for role-playing board games and book / TV series and his talk about his feelings, how he had gone through a difficult period and how he worked to become fully functional again, they build a full and genuine individual . The friendzone is the perfect metaphor for its transformation, given that in the narrative frame of the Pre-Sequel , it immediately adds that “ is a misogynist and sexist way to elaborate the refusal “.
Sentence that makes us laugh, given the context and the character who pronounces it but who collaborates in presenting anyway a nice message in a completely natural way .
What is left for us?
And we could go on with all the other female characters of the work ( Fiona, Sasha, Tyreen, Moxxi etc.), given that the concept extends by embracing each title. Therefore, that feeling of false hair and any forcing is eliminated: everything therefore appears natural. We are not in front of a Ghostbusters remake, which does nothing but replace male characters with female characters, giving the role of the idiot to Chris Hemsworth . Or, even worse, we are not in the fair of the falsity of Avengers: Endgame , which in the final sequence stages that irritating picture of heroines who do nothing for the whole film ( with the necessary exceptions ) but at least they have the shot all to themselves. Both of these cases have been the subject of online discussion, almost always for the wrong reasons. Nobody protested the women of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the sneer: everyone protested for the simple existence of that shot . Just as everyone protested the existence of the Ghostbusters remake not because the protagonists convey a wrong idea of inclusiveness and representation, staging women characterized only by their being women; without thickness, without development, without relevance.
Because it is evident that Marvel, and many fringes of Hollywood in general, has only started in the last two years to hold on account of inclusiveness and representation in the audiovisual products it produces; often addressing this attention in an awkward way, trying to conquer the user sensitive to these issues with trickery and tricks that do not have anything at all inclusive. We are not faced with naivety, unfortunately, but with a social tension that we struggle to abandon .
The human being needs to be represented, to feel himself because he is recognized by everyone. We are incontrovertibly in a society where the dominant group (or “privileged class” if you want to use a sociological term) is the heterosexual white male. He always represents himself, recognizing himself continuously, and he feels threatened every time a variable is introduced that represents something different from him : here is explained the controversy against Ghostbusters and Avengers.
However, everyone must be able to feel represented. Simply, giving space and representation to another makes the privileged class feel threatened, because something different from the representation of itself is entering the circle and therefore is afraid of losing its status. However, it is clear that providing the correct image, on a model of a homosexual, African-American or Eastern woman who is to say she wants to be multifaceted, well-rounded and simply “human”, does not take away space or harm anyone. Rather.
So, in conclusion, Borderlands offers an excellent human cast from all points of view , making itself the bearer of a difficult and irreverent humor, remaining in perfect balance in the oxymoron of “correct incorrectness” . And perhaps precisely because Pandora is extremely hostile and far from our world that this happens. That planet “that goes into your bones”, after all, is not such a bad place. It will be the air, it will be the presence of a cosmic horror that lies in its bowels or it will be the dung farms but, for sure, on Pandora the women are not one step back.